The Boston Phoenix
Review from issue: December 21-28, 2000

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State And Main

Beneath the four-letter words and brusque iconoclasm, bad boy David Mamet is just a traditionalist after all. His previous film was the masterful, G-rated adaptation of stodgy British playwright Terence Rattigan's chestnut The Winslow Boy. His latest revives the classic screwball comedy of the '30s, a flaky pastry evoking Capra-corn and Preston Sturges, and though it never attains the heights of its predecessors, it does show how far the genre has declined. A film crew invades a quirky New England village (actually our own Manchester-by-the-Sea), and at once it's clear this will be a tale about the conflict between innocence and hipness, idealism and cynicism, art and money.

Kicked out of New Hampshire because of an indiscretion involving his star, Bob Barrenger (Alec Baldwin), and an underage girl (a touch of the old Mamet here, along with the mantra "tits"), the film's director (William H. Macy, who makes it look easy) finds that the new location for The Old Mill poses problems as well. Like -- no mill. Plus, there's an ambitious local politico who wants to shake down the production, more jailbait temptations for Barrenger, a balky starlet (Sarah Jessica Parker), an earnest screenwriter (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and the latter's new flame, a savvy local girl (Rebecca Pidgeon, recalling in her manner the young Katharine Hepburn of Alice Adams) who might embody the "purity" his screenplay is looking for. Although heavy on the bon mots (the "electoral college" line that everyone will be quoting is not only timely but provides an adept reversal of conventional expectations), State and Main more often is sleek in construction. Too much so, perhaps -- a few more potholes would have shaken up this traditional fare. At the Copley Place, the Kendall Square, and the West Newton and in the suburbs.

-- Peter Keough
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